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Learning Styles Response(Long Post)


From: SHARON STEERE (SS21803_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Tue Jul 03 2001 - 13:17:21 PDT

The following is a response from my Education Psychology teacher:

Hi Sharon,

I glad you are taking such initiative in gathering info about learning
styles and willing to keep an open mind about a position you feel
strongly about. I would like to address some of the questions you and
your fellow artists have raised. To begin, I will have to operationally
define what a learning style is so we share a common language.
Unfortunately, oftentimes people discuss learning styles but are talking
about different concepts.

As used in the research literature and how I interpret it (which you may
not share this definition), a learning style is a characteristic
approach to learning and studying that is predominantly determined by
genetics, as such, is unchangeable.

Why do educational psychologist have problems with learning styles, as
defined above? Contrary to what many believe, learning styles
pigeon-hole individuals into believing they can only learn using their
genetically determined learning style. This is what I experienced as a
tutor and teacher dealing with students who received different labels.
A common remark, "Oh I can’t learn during a lecture. I ‘m a visual
learner." But then no attempt is made on the learner’s part to
construct a visual representation of the information. Then I show them
how to transform information presented auditorily into visual
representations and the material is much more manageable and easier to

A common response is, "Well the person is a visual learner. Isn’t that
a learning style?" Reply: When given new information, especially when
the person has limited experience or knowledge in the content area, the
learner is being asked to store and manipulate information in working
memory, which has limited capacity (5-9 bits…just try remembering a new
phone number). The person experiences information "overload" and is
unable to internally represent the information in a manageable form,
what form that may be. Regardless if you are a ‘visual’ or ‘auditory’
learner, you have to deal with the limits of working memory.
Constructing a representation will help just about anyone in this
situation, irrespective of the label.

If you receive verbal instructions on where to find something in your
house (or any well-learned location), you probably will not need a map.
This is not a new learning task, but the point is, if you have a
referent in memory, you will need less visual stimulation. You can
imagine the information in memory. This is one reason many students
have difficulty with math. It deals with abstracts. Why can housewives
in Brazil (Sternberg, 1996) compute how much their groceries will cost
while shopping but are unable to compute math on paper and pencil
tasks. They lack experience dealing with the information in the

When designing instruction, it is best to tap into several channels to
facilitate knowledge construction by the learner. By channels, I refer
to the use of the senses. Work by Richard Mayer, William Baddaley, John
Sweller, and others looks at the modality effect, or altering the
presentation form and its influence on student learning. Present only
visual, only audiotory, and both (and alter the order). When both are
used, students appear to learn more. That is just good instruction.

When students cannot learn auditorily but are masters at learning by
doing, that is usually a sign of a learning disability. This is called
a learning disability only because it deviates from the norm of human
functioning. That does not mean the child is an inferior human. Extra
support is need by this type of learner and success can be achieved.
This would be a learning style, using the definition I provided above.

For the vast majority of students, it would be better to use the term
learning preferences. A learning preference is a preferred way of
learning and studying such as using pictures instead of text, working in
groups vs. working alone, learning in structured vs. unstructured
situations, etc… So when I, or researchers such as Sig Tobias (though I
cannot speak for Sig) are apprehensive about the use of the term
learning style, it is because of the deleterious impact it has on
students believing they can only learn one way (self-fulfilling
prophecy), or use it as an excuse because they do not want to work at
learning, which is difficult at times. The best recommendation for
helping any student, as I hope I have made clear in this class, is to
teach students how to learn. Much of time spent in America’s school’s
deals with content, but nothing on how to learn. Learning strategies
empower students to become self-regulated learners.

I hear, I forget.
I see, I remember.
I do, I understand.

The more a person works with the information, the better the chances
they will learn the material (levels of processing). That is why I am
having you do classroom observations, reflections, and suggestions for
improvement. When you encounter these situations, you will hopefully
recall the experiences you had in this class much better than if you
spent your time studying for a multiple choice test.

Real quickly, left-brain and right-brain learners. It is much easier to
learn if you use your whole brain!

Now for multiple intelligences. Do people go about learning
differently? They sure do! The wonderful thing that Gardner’s multiple
intelligences has introduced is the idea that people have talents that
are not measured by paper and pencil tests. It is one thing to know the
material for a test. It is another thing to know how to take that
test. Again most students lack test taking strategies, while for
others, the information is too abstract. It has been great that
students can feel valued for the different talents they possess.

A problem with Gardner’s theory is he failed to provide a clear way to
apply the theory when it came out in the early 1980’s. As a result, it
was often misused and misapplied. For example, it does not benefit a
musical learner to have music being played in the background while
learning how to do fractions. Music is a distractor that uses up
working memory space during the learning, in this situation. When you
drive in a familiar place, you can listen to the radio and even talk
with a friend. But when a person is lost in a big city that she/he is
unfamiliar with, the radio gets turned off and the conversation switches
to trying to find where the heck you are.
Nor does it help students to do jumping jacks while learning dates in
history if they are bodily-kinesthetic learners.

Part of the lure of Gardner’s theory is it’s "political correctness".
The idea of "making every student feel good". I like that idea, but it
needs to be backed up. Right now, we have students graduating from high
school in Nebraska that cannot write a complete sentence. The person
feels good, but doesn’t have some basic competencies for living in our
society. Too many students are "rubber stamped" because "kids need to
feel good about themselves".

Lastly, some people are more intelligent than others. This is a basic
fact. We cannot get lost in political correctness or in the idea of
radical subjectivism, a valueless flatland. The very assertion, "No
idea is better than another," is itself a value judgment that denies
values. Context needs to be taken into account. It doesn’t matter if
you are a whiz at calculus if you are lost in the Amazon. Further,
intelligence is not a measure of human worth or value. A better
question is, "Why does or society value what it does?" and "What type
of learning are our schools reinforcing?"

I hope this provides a better idea of the position I am trying to
communicate. On a side note, remember the 3 components of facilitating
development? Reflection, coordination, and peer interaction. You are
putting all of them to work! And it is fine to disagree. Keep up the
great work.